To be blunt, the Cincinnati Bengals' season-ending loss to the Houston Texans was painful to watch.
In the first five minutes, I knew they had virtually zero shot of winning. Arian Foster was breaking off deflating runs, Andy Dalton was forcing balls to Jermaine Gresham even though he caught virtually nothing, and A.J. Green was swallowed up by double- and triple-teams.
Despite the countless stands the Bengals defense made to keep the game close, I just couldn’t stop focusing on the fact that the offense was completely overmatched and underprepared.
Houston was clearly the better team, and it was only a matter of time before the lovable Bungles walked out with bloody noses and bruised egos once again.
Unfortunately, that result (and that feeling) has become all too common for the Bengals and their fans. Aside from a few blips on the radar (sweeping the division in ‘09, beating banged up Steelers/Ravens squads once each this year), Cincinnati has repeatedly carved out its identity as a second-class citizen in the NFL.
Sure, they can beat teams like Cleveland, Jacksonville and Oakland (an upgrade from Bengals teams past, admittedly), but when it’s time to play a heavyweight, the Bungles always end up doing a swan dive.
This will be a long offseason for the whole Bengal family.
2011 was a surprise, in that a team that was supposed to be terrible, overachieved. 2012, on the other hand, was a surprise in that a team that was supposed to improve lost in the same way to the same team two years in a row, in the game that mattered most.
For eight months Cincy will try to answer some tough questions, and chief among them will be “How the hell can we become a winning franchise, not just a franchise that wins a couple of games?”
Now, the key to achieving that goal could just be the development of the young franchise cornerstones (Dalton, Green, Gresham and Geno Atkins, to name a few). But relying on that and only that would be a classic Bengal blunder (on par with getting into a land war in Asia).
The Pittsburghs, Baltimores and Houstons of the world have good, young players too, and way better organizational structures to boot (Bengals owner Mike Brown will never stop being a nimrod, for example). I’ll never claim to have the mind of a GM, but in order to truly take a step forward, Cincinnati needs to make sure it makes a few key moves this offseason.
Here are three the Bengals could start with...